11/19/2013 12:57PM

Dick Jerardi: Penn National sees handle increase with unique pick four bet with Belmont Park

Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Eighttofasttocatch is the second horse to win three consecutive runnings of the Jennings Handicap.

The Penn National-Belmont Park Thursday 50-cent pick four (15 percent takeout) experiment went from Sept. 12 to Oct. 24. Nobody really knew what to expect, but Penn National officials were hoping there would be benefits beyond the pick four itself. The bet, which included the last two races at Belmont Park and the first two at Penn National, averaged $42,393. That, however, was not the story.

Average handle on the Penn races for the seven Thursdays of the wager was $1,303,787, a 31.5 percent increase from average handle of $991,344 on those same seven Thursdays in 2012. They clearly got more bettors interested in betting on the Penn races.

Dan Silver, Penn’s director of racing operations, said he hoped this would be the first of many wagers his track would do with other tracks. The 15 percent takeout on the pick four was a terrific marketing tool. That it got bettors interested was obvious by the handle numbers.

The first day was actually the best day. The pick four pool on Sept. 12 was $59,000. The Penn handle was $1,416,372, a 75.2 percent increase over the $808,298 from the same Thursday in 2012.

Those numbers should give track executives something to think about. Bettors like multi-race bets with low takeouts and small minimums. Betting on horse racing is attractive for various reasons, but none more than the opportunity to risk a little bit of money with the chance of winning a lot. And if you can entice bettors with a wager that gives them that chance, why wouldn’t they look at your product?

I spoke with Silver about the bet back in September. He was thinking long term even then.

“Part of the importance of a wager like this was showing that tracks can work together to try and give the bettors a new and unique opportunity,” Silver said at the time. “I think exciting possibilities could come of that down the road across multiple different time zones and tracks. Sometimes, things can get somewhat stale and our industry gets accused of not offering up new types of things.”

This pick four was new. It also may provide a road map to the future.

Still too fast to catch

Two major Maryland-bred stars were entered in Laurel Park’s four $100,000 stakes last Saturday. Ben’s Cat scratched from the Dave’s Friend to await the Fall Highweight at Aqueduct or the Fabulous Strike at Penn National. Eighttofasttocatch did not scratch from the Jennings Handicap.

The amazing 7-year-old Not For Love gelding, who made his debut on Oct. 25, 2008, is just about impossible to beat when he gets a clear lead at Laurel Park, his favorite track. Eighttofasttocatch got a clear lead and none of the others ever got close as he won the Jennings for the third consecutive year.

The great Little Bold John is the only other horse to win the Jennings three straight years (1987 to 1989).

“I don’t want to sound overconfident, but it was a nice race,” said Tim Keefe, Eighttofasttocatch’s trainer. “He’s very good right now. I’m most proud that he’s maintaining at this level. He has no problem with a mile and a mile and an eighth. I’m flattered that he’s mentioned in the same sentence with Little Bold John.”

It was the ninth stakes win for Eighttfasttocatch who won the 2011 and 2013 Maryland Million Classic and has career earnings of $854,585. The horse has won 14 races, 12 where he trains at Laurel Park.

Lucy’s Bob Boy bounces back

Lucy’s Bob Boy ran so poorly (ninth) in the Oct. 19 West Virginia Breeders’ Classic at Charles Town that it really did not make sense. Racing in last Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile A Huevo Stakes, the West Virginia-bred was back to his normal form, winning by 8 3/4 lengths and earning a 95 Beyer Speed Figure. The horse has raced 20 times at Charles Town and won 16.

Carmouche on top again at Parx

Kendrick Carmouche had won four consecutive riding titles at Parx Racing until abdicating the throne last year because he rode out of town so much. He was neck and neck with John Bisono most of this year until pulling away in recent weeks. Carmouche plans to head to Gulfstream Park in a few weeks to ride the winter meet there. He should be far enough in front to win another Parx title, even while missing the final few weeks of the meet.

Rey More than 1 year ago
Too bad racing can't do an all-stakes Triple Crown Pick 6 that carries over from the Derby to the Preakness and finally to the Belmont Stakes card with a mandatory pay out should it carry over that far.
Randy Atkins More than 1 year ago
3 or 4 tracks used to have all stakes pic 3's or 4's on saturdays then they quit doing it, years ago. This is a great way for tracks to build their handles...the more money in the pools the more bettor will be attracted to bet.....come on NTRA lets bring this back
Philip Conforti More than 1 year ago
ihave never played this bet but I will. the next thing is to have the four go off alternately so the sequence is over in 30 mins or so.
BMW More than 1 year ago
I may play PARX once a year, if that. The whole PA circuit should be avoided due to their criminal takeout rate
Russell More than 1 year ago
I play PARX regularly on Mondays, and occasionally on Tuesdays, because sharp handicappers like you avoid it, making it easier to find overlays.
Jeffrey More than 1 year ago
This wager was extremely attractive to me when it was first announced. In my opinion, the value of the pick 4 is being overlooked in favor of the pick 5. Although I laud the efforts of the industry to implement an occasional low takeout wager, I think real progress won't be made until they lower WPS, to make it more competitive with other forms of gambling. 17% + breakage is too high and annihilates new players. With respect to Penn National's new wager, I stopped playing it later in the season as the field sizes shrunk. It's not that I care about high caliber fields, it's wanting full competitive fields. While the low takeout horizontal's undoubtedly lures people to hedge their bets with exactas or look at other wagers, fans should be cognizant that Penn charges 31% for trifectas and 30% on superfectas (not including breakage). Furthermore, many horse players recently received notices that their ADW's were closing down thanks to a new fee on in-state horseplayers. Given that Pennsylvania racing has been inundated with slot subsidy money, one might expect that they'd try to cultivate good will with horseplayers. For example, some of that money could have been used to bolster the integrity of the sport by detecting and kicking out the cheaters. Also, they could have lowered their extremely high takeouts, at least making them comparable with New York. As of this point, I am boycotting PA racing until they earn my business.
Bill Opalka More than 1 year ago
Sorry to rain on the parade, but there's a reason the bet came in with a bang and fizzled. The first couple weeks at Penn featured some of the best horses on the grounds. Toward the end, it was short fields of cheapies at low odds. If you're going to entice people with low admission (takeout), you have to give them a reason to come back.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
We are entering Winter Bill... what do you do about that?
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
NYRAs' loss is clearly Penn Nationals' gain.
Mike Reinhardt More than 1 year ago
What loss are you talking about? Belmont's fall meet had a 10% increase in all sources handle... That doesn't strike me as a loss.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Mike, I'm happy for that too. But I am applauding the work of Silver who had the freedom to not appease a huge machine to put his ideas forward. Buying a Racetrack? You want guys like Silver.